Poetry - Race and Identity

“WHITENESS” (part one)

Written by Chloe Sweetlove / Art by Sarah Dahir

oh sweet cocoon of whiteness

you have but dimmed and brightened my world

all at once:

dimmer for the songs and colours and sisters I have lost,

brighter for the chains and shame and burning hatred I have never known.

 

oh sweet cocoon of whiteness

you are in every book that I read where the characters look like me

until a synonym of black;

dark or coffee perhaps…

or a thousand earthy shades that are not white.

you are the beiges and pinks of lipsticks and plasters and stockings and shoes when I think of nude – how can naked have a colour?

 

you are the swimming cap at school which fits perfectly on my hair, my hair that is never touched or questioned or asked to be straightened, more presentable in nature; tamer.

you are the shampoo aisle I know is for me.

 

oh sweet cocoon of whiteness

 

you are in my worst stereotypes being bland food or stiff dance moves or my latte being basic…

not the stereotypes of my sisters being

ugly or uneducated or lazy.

i would take mine any day – oh sweet cocoon of whiteness

 

you are cinderella and belle and princesses that looked like me, i felt beautiful at three

you are feeling seen and reflected on the TV screen

 

oh sweet cocoon of whiteness

 

you are my mother tongue, who demands to be heard no matter what country she finds herself in:

speak my language or –

you are in my fingers that dial the police when something goes wrong, in the faith that when they come along

i will be safe…

or at least that i will not be in danger because of my race

 

oh sweet cocoon of whiteness

 

you are the blood in my veins of a thousand colonisers before me – i am riddled with shame –

fine.

then i will colonise my whiteness; strip it bare and rebuild it and unlike the lands and peoples my ancestors so cruelly destroyed and erased,

you – my whiteness – have never deserved a place;

will not rise again.

 

oh sweet cocoon of whiteness

 

i see now how you have deceived me:

you have made me tall by standing on bleeding backs my voice is loud because your hand has covered mouths. rich from robbing earth that was not mine; leeching. powerful by oppressing and lynching

– free because strange fruit hung from trees –

 

whiteness

 

but i must acknowledge that i am

tall and loud and powerful

and i refuse to deny or abandon these things in vain;

to turn away from them, to disown them, would be to spit on graves

 

no.

whiteness, bear witness now:

step off bleeding backs and bow down

it is your time to listen, so close your mouth

you are all privilege and liberty and power, and fast approaching is the reckoning hour:

 

oh whiteness you will cocoon me no more and if that means i fall then i must fall.

 

not until the last fight has been won and the final war song been sung

and every beating heart and breathing lung knows freedom

 

will i rest.

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